US presses UN council to confront sex abuse by peacekeepers

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2016 6:41 PM
US presses UN council to confront sex abuse by peacekeepers

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States is pressing the U.N. Security Council for the first time to confront the escalating problem of sexual abuse and exploitation by U.N. peacekeepers, which has undermined the organization's credibility.

The United States is the biggest financial contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations, and U.S. officials said Friday the Obama administration wants the council to send a strong signal that it will not tolerate sexual crimes by troops and police sent to protect vulnerable civilians, especially children.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said in a statement the U.S. has always urged the Secretary-General to take action on sexual abuse and would further press individual countries to take action when their personnel are involved.

"The United States has expanded our outreach to troop and police contributing countries to press for immediate and necessary actions to complement the UN's efforts to bolster justice and accountability measures for perpetrators of (sexual exploitation and abuse)," the statement reads.

The council resolution drafted by the U.S. is a response to a new report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon detailing the 69 allegations in 2015 which for the first time named the countries of alleged perpetrators.

"I am ashamed to call myself a peacekeeper when I think of some of these cases," Undersecretary-General Atul Khare told reporters Friday. "Anyone serving under the U.N. flag and preying on the vulnerable is truly an abomination."

Of the allegations in 2015, 23 allegations involved sexual activity with minors.

The U.N. has over 100,000 peacekeepers serving in some of the world's most volatile and poverty-stricken areas.

The report identified the peacekeepers accused of abuse as coming from Congo, South Africa, Morocco, Tanzania, Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Gabon, Benin, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Solvakia, Niger, Moldova and Togo.

Over half of the allegations were made in two of the U.N.'s 16 missions: 22 against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic and 16 in Congo.

The mission in the Central African Republic, or CAR, has made headlines for months with reports of peacekeepers in the impoverished country trading sex for money and sexually abusing minors.

The U.N. already has begun acting on its vow to repatriate troops over alleged abuses, recently sending home military units from Congo and the Republic of Congo from CAR.

Often no one is punished because peacekeepers come under the legal jurisdiction of their home countries.

"We have no authority to prosecute," Khare said.

The secretary-general called for on-site court-martials of alleged perpetrators and DNA testing to identify them. He urged U.N. member states to update their national laws to ensure they apply to sex crimes committed by their citizens serving in U.N. peace operations.

The proposed Security Council resolution would endorse the secretary-general's decision to repatriate U.N. troops or police if there is a pattern of exploitation and abuse by their unit, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private.

The resolution would also ask the secretary-general to replace peacekeeping units if the country that sent them doesn't follow up on allegations, the U.S. officials said.

Countries contributing troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations are sensitive about interference from the United Nations, so it's unclear whether the council will approve the proposed resolution.

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Associated Press writers Dave Bryan at the United Nations and Cara Anna in New York contributed to this report.